Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays

I hope my reader(s) had a jolly solstice and that worked out for you. I may not be back until New Year. Happy Holidays of whatever kind. Get a UNICEF calendar and celebrate whatever you can. Jah, mata ne. Aloha.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


These people have long seemed to be related by an accident of rebirth.

Mao is George Washington.

Kurt Vonnegut is Mark Twain.

Bill Clinton is FDR.

Bucky Fuller was Benjamin Franklin (and should be back again soon).

I don't mean that they resemble each other physically, but psychically. If not literal reincarnations, it may be that the corporeal form draws off and strengthens an underlying multidimensional rhizome which gives rise to a new physical form when the previous one is gone.

The Case for Withdrawal from Iraq

Anthony Arnove states the case for ending the US occupation of Iraq as logically as anyone possibly could in this article.

Rather than stemming civil war or sectarian conflict, the occupation is spurring it. Rather than being a source of stability, the occupation is the major source of instability and chaos.

All of the reasons being offered for why the United States cannot withdraw troops from Iraq are false. The reality is, the troops are staying in Iraq for much different reasons than the ones being touted by political elites and a still subservient establishment press. They are staying to save face for a U.S. political elite that cares nothing for the lives of Iraqis or U.S. soldiers; to pursue the futile goal of turning Iraq into a reliable client state strategically located near the major energy resources and shipping routes of the Middle East, home to two-thirds of world oil reserves, and Western and Central Asia; to serve as a base for the projection of U.S. military power in the region, particularly in the growing conflict between the United States and Iran; and to maintain the legitimacy of U.S. imperialism, which needs the pretext of a global war on terror to justify further military intervention, expanded military budgets, concentration of executive power, and restrictions on civil liberties. The U.S. military did not invade and occupy Iraq to spread democracy, check the spread of weapons of mass destruction, rebuild the country, or stop civil war. In fact, the troops remain in Iraq today to deny self-determination and genuine democracy to the Iraqi people, who have made it abundantly clear, whether they are Shiite or Sunni, that they want U.S. troops to leave Iraq immediately; feel less safe as a result of the occupation; think the occupation is spurring not suppressing sectarian strife; and support armed attacks on occupying troops and Iraqi security forces, who are seen not as independent but as collaborating with the occupation.

It is not only the Iraqi people who oppose the occupation of their country and want to see the troops leave. A clear majority of people in the United States have expressed the same sentiment in major opinion polls and in the mid-term Congressional elections, which swing both houses of Congress and the majority of state governorships to the Democrats, in a clear vote against the imperial arrogance of Bush's "stay the course" approach to the disaster in Iraq. The public did not vote for more money for the Pentagon (as incoming Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada immediately promised, announcing a plan to give $75 billion more to the Pentagon), for more "oversight" of the war (the main Democratic Party buzzword these days), or for more troops (as Texas Democrat Representative Silvestre Reyes, the incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has demanded), but to begin bringing the troops home. A clear majority of active-duty U.S. troops want the same thing, as a much-ignored Zogby International poll found in early 2005, with 72 percent saying they wanted to be out of Iraq by the end of 2006.
The full article is much longer. That's just a short clip. If that's too short you could buy the book.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Support the Troops: Bring 'em home (alive). Don't Fund the Occupation.

Recent news reports have suggested that rather than accept the will of the people and the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, and reduce the American bootprint on the face of Iraq, pResident Bush will instead choose to go the John "Nine-Inch-Nails" McCain route and increase the number of American soldiers currently being wasted there. I absolutely agree with Representative Dennis Kucinich, who argues that the Congress must use its budget power to cut off the funding for Iraq immediately. He argues that there is enough funding "in the pipeline" to get the troops out of Iraq. Even if funding is cut, it will be in 2008 when the troops come home. Without this action, the soldiers are unlikely to be back much before 2010, I fear. The Democrats are said to be afraid of the issue, despite the polls and election results, and are expected to back funding the continuing occupation. That will get the Democrats kicked out in two years, even before the troops are out of Iraq, if they can't do it. If they really want to bring the troops home, they have to show commitment and play hardball, at least cutting off the funding and maybe shutting down the government, Newt-Gingrich style, if need be. Apart from the representatives, the American people will have to get serious and make their opinions heard, not through the ballot box this time, but by mass demonstrations that stop traffic and close down entire cities. The pre-war demonstrations were large and passionate, but didn't stop the war, considering that there was a "silent majority" that was anti-Saddam and willing to trust Bush to do the hit. Now that there is a majority that wants out, they may have to make their voices heard again if the government still doesn't move on this.

I have to confess that I was also one of the people who supported military action in Iraq at one point. I supported the war before it started (and up until the occupation forces showed they didn't have a clue what to do). Although I despised Bush, I despised Saddam more. I didn't think that Bush was persuasive; he seemed incoherent, but I did think that Tony Blair expressed my feelings exactly. Unlike some people, I think that a Democrat would have probably done the same thing, (as Blair is an example) but would have been more effective at bringing in the UN and other US allies, and would have withdrawn successfully as in Bosnia or somewhat less successfully as in Somalia, before the situation became really ugly. There would not have been the blatant profiteering.

The Bushies were able to manufacture 80% public support for the war with fabricated documents, cherry-picking findings from the CIA, and outright lies. Now, 70% of the public oppose continuation of the war. 30% continue to support the US staying to kill more Iraqis. That means Bush has lost 50% of the US public. What I wonder is: How can anyone continue to support that?

Looking at where I went wrong, I see two things. First, I believed that if three governments' intelligence agencies were saying something, it was very likely to be true. I now know that the US was cherry-picking, and that British and Italian intelligence etc was also false, wrong, skewed, for various reasons. Applying my renewed faith in skepticism, I notice that the US, Russia, and China all said that North Korea has detonated a nuclear bomb. Their explosion was half a kiloton (550 tons of TNT) while every other country that has tested a nuclear weapon has used 20 kilotons or something more notable in the megaton range. I think the nuclear test was probably a lie, too; it serves the countries that hate the DPRK to say it is a nuke, and it serves Kim to fool people into thinking he has it too, although that strategy occasionally backfires, as in Saddam's case. If the US, China, and Russia tell us a huge asteroid is on a collision course with the earth, or that the sun is going to explode, I won't believe that unquestioningly, either.

The second thing is that I actually thought that Bush's team was capable of doing it right. I really thought they would be competent. They were miserable failures at everything. We really cannot trust them to do anything right, and everyone realizes it after Katrina. I suppose that the first George Bush's successful restoration of the erased nation of Kuwait, and actions by Clinton to stop genocide in Europe influenced me to think it was possible for an organized force to reduce suffering by righteous violence.

I realized something was wrong when the United States began talking about having elections a few years down the road. They should have been polling people as they rolled through towns and put the most-respected and least-despised non-Saddam-affiliated person in charge immediately, within hours or days. I also thought it was strange when they began patrolling the streets and announced that every person must turn in their gun. Given the widespread gun ownership in Iraqi society, the impossibility of (an invading army) disarming everyone, and the impossibility of a few occupation troops maintaining order, I would have expected them to order all able-bodied males between, say, 20 and 65, to form neighborhood defense committees of 10 or 15 people, and to take charge in patrolling their own neighborhoods. Perhaps the US would ask them to register with the US post in their vicinity and inform them of each defense committee's chairman, so the US could reimburse them with a small stipend. That didn't happen. I also would have thought they would have people come in with their old ration cards, any other identifying documents, 2 or 3 people to vouch for their identity, and that the US could take scans of people's fingerprints on a USB scanner, upload the identity to the networked database, and issue an new national ID card with a biometric so elections and the like could get underway. Giving a person $100 to show up and get a new ID card would be relatively inexpensive with only 23 million people in the country. That would also allow them to start weeding out the criminal prisoners which Saddam had released. The biometric would mean even if the card were lost, stolen, destroyed, or transferred, the ID would remain. By asking for witnesses and family contacts, a social network database could have been built up.

I am not a military expert, and these are just things I assumed would happen without thinking much about it. When the odd declarations such as disarming the entire population came out, I briefly wondered if it was some advanced military tactic beyond my comprehension, but time showed it to be the sheer idiocy it first appeared to be.

By the time of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, I figured that was the load of bricks that was dumped onto the camel's back, that the last American who believed in the war would log off, and that the occupation would end within weeks or months. I am still a little shocked that many people just shrugged and at how long it has taken, actually years since then, to realize that we lost. Saddam lost, too, but America lost very soon after that.

The war should finally be winding down, but it may take a little push. Incoming members of Congress may be afraid that Bush will use his special executive powers given him during the recent one-party-state period to declare congressional opponents "enemy combatants" and have them disappeared, as has been done by many US-installed client dictators and by Hitler, the old Bush family idol. If the Congress knows from their mail and from public demonstrations that the public will back them and will not tolerate the war for another day, the outcome will be the right one.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lame excuses from a crippled regime

Of 180 countries in the world issuing currency, only the United States prints bills that are identical in both size and color for all denominations. After losing a four-year lawsuit over the matter, the "Justice" Department of the Bush Administration is retaliating against the American Council for the Blind, appealing the ruling with the argument that introducing modifications to the currency would be an unbearable hardship for the US mint and the all-important vending machine industry, and that the burden really should fall on the blind, who can buy and carry currency readers or just use their credit cards. Yes, that is what the US government is actually arguing: "Let Them Use Credit Cards!" and "Let Them Buy Portable Currency-Reading Scanners And Carry Them Everywhere!" (Marie Antoinette Lives!) After all, the (multi-million-dollar) cost to the US government would be equal to several hours of (multi-billion-dollar) Iraq spending. How did Nepal and every other country manage to be able to handle it but the poor little United States just doesn't have enough money? And doesn't the vending machine industry want the business of visually-impaired persons as well? Do they have the luxury of just rejecting potential customers? It is hard to imagine happening in Japan, where Universal Design is well-established. America is left behind even the most regressive countries in the world again. Sometimes I just don't get the United States. I suppose we should be thankful that America is ruled by "compassionate conservatives." If these are the Compassionates, I hate to imagine what Regular (Original? Classic?) Conservatives would be like. Your government at work, fighting the blind. It's hard work. Stay the course.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Today's Reading: Veteran Cherry-Picker Gates (got a PhD in it)

I had just enough time to read this today:
by James Ridgeway at Mother Jones, and
this interview with 24-year CIA veteran Melvin Goodman by Daniel Schulman also sheds some light on the new amerikan kriegsmeister.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rummy & Bushie Bolt-on (in the Journal of Contemporary Comparitive Snackology)

Rummy (AKA Donald Rumsfeld, Ronald Dumsfeld) the Secretary of Defense (War Department) may be (almost) gone, but Rummy the alcoholic Japanese chocolate (chocoholic?) bar will live on. Containing 3.7% alcohol, it carries a warning not to be used when operating a motor vehicle. I haven't tried it yet. It may be a more appropriate snack for Mr and Mrs Bush and the Vice-Executioner Cheney.

I wonder if John Bolton (also past the expiration date) can't inspire his own candy bar. Bolton is recognizable as the man with the bushy bolt-on mustache, known domestically as "a kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy", and known in North Korea as "human scum and a bloodsucker". That's beautiful. The North Koreans understand him, and he understands them; each side recognizes themselves in the other. They each have their second-generation dynastic dear/deer leader, and they both share the same fear-based way of ruling. For that reason, Bolton was actually pretty good at dealing with them, if you overlook the fact that they refused to talk with him. Bolton couldn't even get the approval of enough US Sedators in the Repuglicant-controlled Senate, let alone those outside the beltway, and had to be satisfied with just being W's personal emissary to the U.N., yet he brazenly displayed UNITED STATES on his desk as if he represented the United States. He is now politically doomed.

Kiss-up or Bushie would both be good names for a snack, and he looks a little like a confectioner, so having his face on the label would be no worse than the Colonel. (But it ain't fingers he's lickin'.)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Rock on in Peace, James Kim. (To Build A Fire)

It's too bad about James Kim. I have been getting a CNET music newsletter from him for 2? 4? 5? years, so I almost feel as though I know him. The last one I got was November 8, because, coincidentally, I unsubscribed on November 11 and deleted all but the last newsletter to reduce the clutter in my inbox. It is hard to imagine that James would be navigating out in the Oregon wilderness without a GPS navigation unit. On the other hand, maybe he did have one, and that is the reason he got into that situation. I hear that you cannot really keep one on the dash of your car in the US because it will immediately be stolen, so maybe it is more trouble than it is worth. I really empathize with his feeling of trying to help his girls; it would be hard to just stay put in the car for days and days. I wonder why, if they could burn tires, they couldn't collect some wood and get it on fire, or even a tree or two, or if they rejected that idea on principle. I might hesitate to waste a tree to save my own selfish ass, but if it were for the children, viva el towering inferno. But maybe the trees were not flammable, i.e. snow-laden, etc. It seems that if there was a way, he would have found it, but I can't help but wonder what really happened. My condolences to all who really knew him.

Update 2006-12-12: I saw part of a report on Paula Zahn, usually my least favorite cnn presenter, before I had to leave to go to work. I understand now that after days of rain and snow, there wasn't much dry material around to set alight. However, James was able to get the tires on fire. Maybe he drained some oil from the car. I understand he had a lighter and some magazines. I think they put a lot of hope into the smoke from four burning tires, and imagined that it would draw the attention of rescuers. When it didn't, they must have lost some hope. I still wonder if they couldn't have used the heat from the tires to dry out some more branches, or get a tire burning in a dead, hollow tree and start a whole tree or log burning. Either that wasn't possible, or didn't seem like the right idea at the time.

He was right to stay in the car. But how many of us could stand to stay with two small kids who are hungry, crying, bored, unhappy, etc? After 2 hours, 4, 24, 48, you would flip. Most of us would probably set off on the first sunny day for help. He waited as long as he could but finally broke down and felt he had to do something other than just watch things deteriorate. Strictly speaking, maybe it wasn't the most survivalistically correct move, but it is moving because he did it for love and really didn't mind taking a chance and dying.

Nobody can say what they would have done unless they have actually been in this identical situation.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Typhoon Durian (Reming)

Some news reports have said that a thousand or several thousand people may have died as Typhoon Durian hit the Philippines. Travelers to and residents of Southeast Asia will know that nobody wants to be hit with a durian, but it still makes a silly name for a typhoon. In the Philippines, this typhoon was called Reming. Despite the high death toll, the news is eclipsed on CNN by two other World stories: the re-election of Venezuelan President Chavez in a landslide, and a Saudi sleeper cell story. On BBC, the typhoon doesn't even make the top 10 world stories, but not just through the fault of the editors, but because few readers are clicking on the story to read it. Perhaps the media are lagging behind the curve because they have nobody there to report, and thus nothing to say. Even if anderson-cooper, wolf-blitzer, or lou-dobbs are flown in to the area to report in a few days, they have no context to interpret what they are seeing anyway.

I went to fLIckr to see if anyone had been able to enter the disaster area, take photos, and leave again to a place with electricity and upload the photos. Not likely, right? But I found the flickr page and blog of Paranaque photojournalist Linus G. Escandor II, which satisfied some of my curiosity about the situation. I could appreciate the ups and downs of his day as I read about being sent to a beauty pageant early one day and photographing a victim of a gunshot to the head later in the day. It's a large-scale disaster in a beautiful country of beautiful people. …!
He does some great work.

Prove to me that the media isn't Working for the Man!

This happened over two weeks ago but I am going to post it anyway since it is one of the most racist and intolerant moments you are going to see on the mainstream media for… well, probably for a day or two. This one was from CNN, the corporate news network. Basically, the interviewer (Glenn Beck) asks the Congressman (Keith Ellison) to "prove to me that you are not working for our enemies!"

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fiddy Bullets in NYC

On Saturday, November 25, five police officers in Queens fired fifty bullets into a car carrying 23-year old Sean Bell as he left a bachelor's party. He died. He was to be wed later that day. This story has been extensively reported in the media, and I have little to add but to refer you to Democracy Now, which you can read or listen to. I suggest you subscribe to the podcast. Al Sharpton said exactly the right things. I would point out that these things always seem to happen in America, never Belgium or Singapore, although there is an American tradition of air-dropping bombs on weddings in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also seems to me that if the Al Capone school of policing is being employed, the police may have other resemblences to the famous criminal. Face it: New York City cops are notoriously crooked and some of these may have had a reason to off Mr Bell, but we will have to wait and see if it was complicated by corruption or just simple brutish incompetent fatal gun violence by the peace officers. Premeditated murder, or just murder on the impulse of the moment? I made the above collage, unable to resist the symbolism of the number 50.

Zoomclouds (I really don't know clouds, at all.)

I set up an account at Zoomclouds back in May(?) or June(?), but couldn't use the cloud because it refused to live in the sidebar, and kept sprawling all over the main column and making it unreadable. Later it occurred to me that if I wanted to have it, letting it live at the bottom of the body wouldn't be so bad after all. Having previously given up on it, I hadn't made a note of the password. Clicking on Forget your password? at login produced this message:

Request a new password

Still working in getting the "Forgot your password" thing to work. If you 've really forgotten your password, give us a few days until we get this thing to generate a new one for you and send it to your mailbox.

Pardon our dust!

and months later, the same message. That's pretty lame, and either annoyingly charming or charmingly annoying, but I guess they are focused on what they do best. Or maybe not, since their site seems barely alive. I made a new account and stuck the script at the bottom of the body main column. To my surprise, the biggest item in the tag cloud is not "monkey" but "god". That's funny since I don't believe in gods but hadn't been proselytizing that position very much (until lately). Eris didn't even show up, but phrases I used once, such as "2 men" did. It is at least partly nonsensical, but I like that (glitchy tech) because it reminds people not to depend on technology too much. Gibbon, squirrel, eel, and monkeys (plural!) made the list, but no other members of the animal-based verbal lexicon which I was developing for the use and amusement of zoo employees and non-employees alike. Where is "snackology"? Matcha is there, but not snackology? Some of my other lexical tendencies were revealed. "Apparently" I "guess" I can now "reveal" that "I don't know" very much. (But you already know that!)

So this is the new Blogger Beta…

I updated my blog to Blogger beta as they have been nagging me to do at login, so this is my first post in the new system. It's not so different. New post and other things move one click back, to the dashboard. There are also labels. No more Republish Entire Blog or Republish Index, because it just happens. Now I have to log in with my Google ID, too, not Blogger. I also tried to update the blog Template to the new Layout format for a refreshing change, and it was refreshing, but lost too much in the translation, so I switched it back. Instead of comprehensible html, or potentially comprehensible css, Blogger Beta's Layout format uses its own dialect of css which has been deconstructed by a handful of people and is described on Blogger support somewhere, if you google around. I would lose not just fonts and colors, as they warned me, but the current Nasa sun gif, (recently inadequately dressed) weather pixies, tag clouds (which have found a place to live without screwing up the page at the bottom of the body), all scripts and most images that are outside of posts. I would have to learn Blogger beta's unique css in order to recode those things back in, if that is even possible. I wonder if there is not some attempt to control the content and constrain it to mostly google-centric objects and widgets. For anyone setting up a new Blogger blog, it will be the layout format by default, so that is what you will get. For the person who is afraid to open the Template tab and tweak the html, the new drag-and-drop Layout editing will be easier. For advanced coders who can deconstruct and hack the Layout format language, it may be better, too. For those of us who are in between those two extremes, it seems that it is better to switch to Blogger beta, but not to change the Template to a Layout at this time, in my opinion. I am sure that Google has more improvements in the pipeline, so this may change.